Prison riot: City agrees to hold town hall in wake of jailhouse backlash

The city is planning on converting the Marriage Bureau building on Centre Street into a jail as part of Mayor de Blasio’s plan to close Riker’s Island, but locals are outraged that the city didn’t consult with the community.
Photo by Colin Mixson


In the face of a torrent of criticism after the surprise announcement of the proposed location for the new Manhattan jail last month, the city has agreed to hold a town hall Downtown next week to address complaints about the lack of community input.

Downtowners were blindsided by the city’s Aug. 15 announcement that it plans to convert the city’s Marriage Bureau at 80 Centre St. into a new jail as a part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to close Riker’s Island, and community anger exploded at an emergency meeting convened by Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou called that same day in Chinatown, where local leaders blasted the city for leading the public out of the loop.

“There was no public hearing for Chinatown to respond or discuss on this very important issue that will directly impact our community,” said Eric Ng, the president of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association.

“This process is completely unfair, non-transparent, and insulting to our community,” said Raymond Tseng, president of the Hoy Sun Association.

Niou said she still supports closing the long-troubled offshore jail, but the lack of transparency in locating new facilities “enraged” her.

“I’m not breaking away from the fact that we need to close Riker’s Island,” she told this paper. But she added: “Our community has not had a voice wherever in this process.”

The assemblywoman also complained of what seemed like a bait-and-switch with the location of the new Manhattan jail, which the city had long suggested would be an expansion of the existing Manhattan Detention Complex — aka, “The Tombs” — at 125 White St.

“They named one site for a whole year, and then ten days before the draft scoping is done, they tell us that it’s a whole different site,” she said. “That’s insane. When were we supposed to have any input?”

Councilwoman Margaret Chin was also quick to slam the complete lack of transparency in the city’s siting process, and pushed for the town hall that will be held Sept. 12.

“It’s crucial that the administration participate in a robust community engagement process, which must begin with full transparency about the proposal to move the Manhattan Detention Center from its current location to 80 Center St.,” Chin said in a statement. “I believe this administration must seize this opportunity to provide clarity, address concerns, and engage residents, business owners, and community leaders in a productive dialogue,” she said.

The Sept. 12 town hall meeting, which is co-sponsored by Chin and Borough President Gale Brewer, will be at PS 124, 40 Division St., in Chinatown, and will include representatives from City Hall.

But community boards 1 and 3 aren’t waiting until next week. The two panels are holding a joint meeting on Sept. 6, where members will grill reps from the mayor’s Office on the jail proposal.

This is all before the previously schedules public scoping meeting set for Sept. 27, which is required as part of the lengthy Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) for projects of this scale.

De Blasio’s plan to close Rikers and replace it with local jails in all boroughs but Staten Island is part of a larger strategy to reduce the city’s jail population to 5,000 by 2027. This year, the jail population is around 8,200 — the lowest in three decades, and 13 percent less than last year.

The proposed replacement facilities will each have around 1,500 beds to allow for a total of 6,000 beds citywide. The existing Manhattan Detention Center would need to be either replaced or expanded, since it only has 1,000 beds, according to scoping documents. Each borough’s jail is also expected to include space for educational programming, recreation, therapeutic services, publicly accessible community space, and parking.

Under the plan unveiled last month, the new Manhattan jail would be in the 80 Centre St. at building where the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, the city’s Marriage Bureau, and other court-related services are located now.

The Manhattan District Attorney’s office is expected to relocate to the south tower of the repurposed Tombs. The future use of the north tower  has not yet been determined.

Chin is pushing for the city to dedicate the north tower to community uses as a sweetener for locals upset by the siting process. Niou conceded that at this point the city can’t please everyone, but she kept the focus on facilitating community input.

“Not everybody is going to be happy, not everybody is going to get what they want, and not everybody is going to walk away from it thinking that, ‘Oh, I love this in my neighborhood,’” Niou said. “But at the same time, I think that what can happen is that at least people can feel heard.”

You can make yourself heard at the following scheduled meetings:

Joint CB1 and CB3 Meeting on the Proposed Manhattan Detention Complex — Sept. 6. 6:30 pm, at 1 Centre Street, North Entrance, Mezzanine.

Town hall on the jail project — Sept. 12, 6 pm. at PS 124, 40 Division St.

Public scoping meeting — Sept. 27, 6 pm, at 1 Centre St. in the Borough President’s office.

The public can also submit written comment about the plan until Oct. 15 to Howard Judd Fiedler, Department of Correction, 75-10 Astoria Blvd., Suite 160, East Elmhurst, N.Y. 1137 or [email protected] 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *